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Today, Fava Beans are cultivated in more than 50 countries, with China accounting for a large fraction of world production. The plant is an erect hardy annual with a distinctive four-ribbed stem, either single or sparsely branched. The compound leaves are composed of a few large leaflets and bear large stipules at their bases. The white, black-blotched flowers are borne in axillary clusters. The plant may produce fruits known as "longpods", with up to eight seeds,, or "Windsors", with shorter pods containing up to four seeds. The seeds are highly variable in shape, color (white, green, buff brown, purple, or black), and size (6 to 20 mm in length).
The immature seeds (beans) may be cooked as a vegetable, canned, or frozen. The dry mature seeds can used as human food or animal feed. Seed flour has been used for bread. Whole immature pods have also been used as food. In Egypt, Fava Beans are an important part of the diets of many people as an ingredient in ful. The dried seeds contain 25% protein, 1.5% fat, and 49% carbohydrate. The young beans contain around 80% water, but significant levels of carotenes and Vitamin C.
In addition to its use as food for humans and livestock, Fava Bean plays a critical role in some agricultural systems due to the ability of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria it harbors to fix atmospheric nitrogen under a broad spectrum of environmental conditions. This facilitates diversification of the agroecosystem in both time (via crop rotations) and in space (via intercrops), which also may indirectly enhance associated diversity of wild flora and fauna, as well as soil microbes, which may in turn impact the sustainability of agricultural systems. (Köpke and Nemecek 2010)
Fava Beans in the Mediterranean region are responsible for a form of hemolytic anemia known as "favism". It occurs in individuals with a genetic deficiency of an enzyme know as glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD). Pythagoras was said to suffer from this disorder.
(Vaughan and Geissler 1997)